So, you want to lose weight? You’ve decided that now is the time to start. So, which diet do you choose?
Well, there certainly are many to choose from. Thirty years ago it was the 1000 calorie a day diet and the ten fat points diet (I remember at school talking about the diets our mums were following!) Celebrities such as Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow championed Macrobiotic diets in the 1990s and during the last decade we’ve had Atkins, with its high protein, high fat meals. The latest diet craze seems to be the 5:2 diet where you eat normally for five days and then fast for two non-consecutive days. The fast days include eating just 500 calories (600 for men) which leaves most people grumpy, irritable, malnourished and with little energy to exercise. The science behind this diet suggests that its positive effects are focused on its cancer and dementia prevention rather than its weight loss, which is more of a pleasant side effect.
Whatever the science or research behind these diets, I’m going to turn it on its head and give you an alternative approach. I’m not a scientist, but I trained in health, fitness and nutrition over 16 years ago and have years of experience motivating and inspiring clients and friends to achieve their personal best.
So, where do I start?
First, remember that if you go ON a diet, that means at some point you’ll come OFF your diet!
All the diets I’ve mentioned above, plus many more, will involve focusing on calories. Calorie counting is incredibly tedious and highly inaccurate. Most people underestimate their normal daily intake quite substantially and therefore don’t succeed, while others try to limit themselves to such low intakes that they become malnourished. Food labelling is clever; manufacturers want you to buy their products after all, so frequently you’d have to work out the calorie intake in your actual serving size. This means you spend hours weighing portions while desperately trying to do the mental arithmetic – before arriving at an arbitrary guesstimate!
The worrying aspect of this latest 5:2 fasting plan is the way in which dieters obtain their 500 or 600 calories. A friend of mine is currently drinking black coffee all day before eating all his calories in one go, generally in the form of eggs and beans – in his words, he’s a ‘time bomb’ the next day! I’m sure his wife is less than amused.
Many people around the world use fasting as part of their cultural habits, and may have done so since their childhood. Fasting can indeed cleanse the mind and body. The difficulty in the Western world is that we’re so toxic (from alcohol, cigarettes, medication, processed foods, fizzy drinks etc.) that to suddenly starve for a day can put more stress onto the body. Doing this regularly may become mentally easier over time, especially when motivated by a fast weight loss, but it’s not supporting cell growth and renewal, nor providing superior nutrition.
The other side of this diet is the ability to eat ‘normally’ for the remaining five days each week. What is normal for you or I or Mr Smith down the road is going to be completely different. If you eat takeaways and junk food every day and suddenly reduce your calorie intake for two of those days then yes, you will probably lose weight, BUT are you changing your eating and lifestyle habits in a positive way for life?
The science behind the 5:2 diet claims that you must continue to eat normally and not reduce calories every day of the week. Bodybuilders have long used a successful plan called zigzag dieting which is individually designed to take into account one’s own metabolic rate. It involves some days at a maintenance level, some at an increased calorie level and others at a lower level. It’s a similar technique that means while you reduce overall calorie intake, you’re still keeping the body guessing and making the metabolism work harder on high-calorie days. However, the difference between a professional bodybuilder and Mr Regular is that his diet will be based around ‘clean’ foods: lean proteins, vegetables, whole grain carbohydrates, eggs, fish and natural fats such as nuts, seeds and olive oil. The bodybuilder will have his occasional treats or ‘cheat’ meals on the high calorie days and all other meals will be from his list of clean foods.
So, now I’ve told you a few reasons why these diets are not healthy, let me show you how to lose weight AND become the healthy, happy person you dream to be, with the toned body and glowing skin.
True happiness comes from within, not from conforming to a socially acceptable stereotype. So ladies, before you start aiming to be a miniscule UK size 4 or 6, or weigh under around 8 stone, please read on…
The aim, at any age, should be to be the best you can be; to take advantage of your genetic potential and to achieve a level of optimum nutrition. This will ensure your body is toned, firm and your immune system works well; your skin should glow, your hair shine, and nails grow well without flaking or ridges.
It’s important to understand (and love) your own body, as it is, at the moment, with all its flaws. A short, muscular woman is never going to have a body like Claudia Schiffer, while a tall skinny girl with wide hips is never going to have a compact gymnast’s body. Are you an apple or a pear? Large busted or small? Some of these things can’t be changed, but you can work around them to achieve a balanced hourglass figure.
Through regular exercise (weight training in particular) and a healthy diet, an apple shaped lady with a large trunk, skinny legs and a flat bottom can build the muscle in her legs and butt to make them more shapely, define the shoulders and slim down the mid-section. A pear shaped woman could do a lot of lower body endurance training to reduce the size whilst simultaneously building up her petite shoulders, chest and back to achieve the beautiful hourglass physique.
Enough about exercise for now, let’s go back to the diet.
I never put my clients on a diet. I give them techniques and recipes, positive food swaps and lots of encouragement to make healthy lifestyle changes for ever. I understand that at certain points in our lives things will change. We go through many different phases of positive and negative emotional stresses, from marriage to divorce, births to deaths and love affairs to loneliness, that sometimes dieting just isn’t the right thing. If you’re stressed you need chemical support from your food you shouldn’t try to fight your body’s natural needs by starving it.
So before you start the latest craze and further stress your body, try these simple tips to lose weight:
- Drink 2 litres water every day and replace all fizzy drinks (even diet sodas) with plain water, water with fresh lemon or lime, or herbal teas.
- Swap take-aways or ready-meals for home-cooked food. This will reduce the amount of salt, sugar and chemicals in your diet and will save you money (thus reducing another stress!) If you aren’t sure what or how to cook, follow the link below to my Facebook page where I upload new photos and recipes every few days.
- Instead of fasting, simply take one day a week as a raw food or juice day. Start with either a fresh fruit salad with seeds or a vegetable juice (including either beetroot or dark green vegetables such as kale or spinach), then have delicious raw salads or vegetable soups for the rest of the day. Whether you eat three larger meals or 5/6 smaller ones is up to you (if you suffer with low blood sugar then eat every 3 hours) but over the course of a week the calorie deficit from this raw food day will help a slow, steady weight loss.
- Eat most of your calories by 4pm. Too many women go on diets that include a bowl of a well-known cereal for breakfast and a light sandwich or soup for lunch, then nothing until dinner. If you’re an average busy mum, running around doing hundreds of chores every day then you really need your calories during the day, not two hours before bed! I suggest a healthy breakfast of either porridge with berries and seeds or scrambled egg on toast with a side salad or piece of fruit. Snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon should be protein rich: Try carrots and hummus, celery and peanut butter, apple and brazil nuts, a small can of tuna with salad, a slice of beef or chicken and a chopped red pepper, or plain yogurt with fruit and seeds. Lunch should again be protein rich – the average 10 stone woman should eat about 4oz chicken breast (or other meat/fish/veggie alternatives) with salad or cooked vegetables. If you’ve exercised in the morning then add a 4oz portion of carbohydrate (try brown rice, quinoa or sweet potato). Don’t forget to add a drizzle of olive oil for essential fats. After those four healthy meals and snacks, your dinner should be eaten early and light. For weight loss I would suggest another small piece of chicken or fish with vegetables (with the carbs if you didn’t eat them at lunch). Occasionally you’ll fancy more carbohydrate – use this occasion to eat some wholemeal pasta with a homemade tomato sauce and a small amount (1oz) of cheese.
- Don’t drink alcohol every day! Ideally, save it for the weekends or special occasions. The calories will add up, particularly in mixers and cocktails, but more importantly the effects of alcohol continue into the next day, making you less capable of making healthy food choices – and re-starting that vicious cycle of eating sugar/alcohol/caffeine when you’re tired and lethargic.
- Exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Just go for a walk! Get on your bike or head to the local swimming pool. Aim for 30-40 minutes, five times every week. This can be broken down into chunks of ten minutes if necessary. Always check with your GP if you’ve not exercised for a long time, have serious medical conditions or are severely obese.